Socialist types like to accuse rich corporate types of having “too much” wealth. Simple fairness, they claim, dictates that one person should not have so much when so many have so little. But if we’re going to talk about fairness, let’s really give it fair consideration. That means looking beyond the petty jealousy and thinking about the fairness of seizing wealth from those who earned it and giving it to those who did not.
How did the wealthy get that way? The socialist types claim that the greedy capitalists exploit their workers and their consumers. Is that true? Let’s start with the workers. Jeff Bezos may be greedy. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met him. But I did work for him - in fact I hired other people to work for him. So I can say with reasonable certainty that he hasn’t created his enormous wealth by exploiting his workers. They were all there voluntarily.
Before attending law school, I spent several months working for the temp agency that hires seasonal workers for Amazon warehouses. I saw a lot of people thrilled to get a job, but you know what I didn’t see? Anyone being dragged to my office by the Agents of Amazon, bound to a chair, and told they had no choice but to work. I didn’t see anyone forced to work against their will. What I did see was relieved faces when people learned they had just gotten a job. For some it was a chance to earn a little extra money to pay for Christmas presents. For others it was a fresh start. A few were there at the insistence of a parent or significant other, and were less sanguine about the prospects of spending 12 hours packing boxes in a warehouse. I don’t blame them. But it certainly beats sitting at home hoping someone will come along and solve your problems for you. Working a job - even as an Amazon warehouse packer - beats searching for a job.
So if Bezos isn’t exploiting the worker (since the worker is there voluntarily), he must exploit his customers, right? Why do people buy from Amazon? I don’t want this to sound like an ad for Amazon, as I have some serious concerns about the way they dominate the market, and about their open acceptance of corporate welfare. But it’s no surprise they have amassed a loyal following. They tend to have low prices. Perhaps someone else offers a single item for a lower price, but overall, if you purchase the bulk of your goods from Amazon, you’ll probably spend less than if you bought from any other single source.
Price is important, but you also want to make sure you’re getting the right product. Amazon has reviews on almost every product they sell. It’s pretty easy to judge quality. Speaking of products, Amazon has them all. With few exceptions it’s difficult to find a product category that Amazon doesn’t carry. Finally, Amazon is easy. It’s easy to find what you’re looking for, and you don’t even have to leave your house. Amazon has always catered to shut-ins. It’s 2020; we’ve created an excess of shut-ins.
Given all these appealing aspects, is it any wonder Amazon is making money hand over fist? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been visited by the Agents of Amazon, demanding that I click “buy” or see my house mysteriously go up in flames.
If Bezos doesn’t exploit workers, and he doesn’t exploit consumers, how did he amass such a great wealth? He created it, by providing value to his customers. Somewhere along the line, people decided that the ease and convenience of using Amazon outweighed whatever practical or moral compunctions they had about giving their money to someone who had all the hallmarks of becoming a billionaire. That is, people let their self-interest guide their purchasing decisions.
So, let’s reconsider the fairness of redistributing Bezos’ great wealth. He created a company. He hired workers who chose to do the job and take the pay that was offered, without a gun to their head or the threat of being put in jail. He offered goods to customers in a competitive market. They chose to buy from him. Without a gun to their head or the threat of being put in jail. If you can point to someone who got rich through deception or corrupt manipulation of government, then you might have an argument for redistributing some portion of their wealth. 1889 is vehemently opposed to any kind of corporate welfare or favoritism. But certain elements of society want to send agents of the government to Bezos’ house — simply because he is wealthy — demand that he hand over the bulk of his wealth, or be put in jail. If he refuses, these agents will use their guns to persuade him. The wealth will then be given to people based on how little they have - that is, how little value they have created for others. Tell me, what’s fair about that?
Mike Davis is a Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.